I know it’s terrible, but I like puns in my titles. Anthony Ryan caught a lot of flack for Queen of Fire, his final book of The Raven’s Shadow. In the days since I started and finished his new book, The Waking Fire, I have had an alarming number of people come up to me and tell me unasked that they won’t be buying The Waking Fire because of their feelings about Queen. Each and every time I have responded with two comments; judging an author by one book is dumb (I even wrote a post about it), and it is your loss because dear god The Waking Fire is good. I was really nervous to read Ryan’s new book, because regardless of how you feel about Queen, authors often have some trouble breaking into their second major series regardless of how good their first is. I was actually sitting on the subway when I finished my previous book and decided to crack open The Waking Fire and give it a glance. I was so engrossed, so quickly, that I missed my subway stop twice.
So what is The Waking Fire? That is where things get interesting. Ryan’s new book has an enormous scope, and it seamlessly combines three different kinds of novels; spy thriller, military fiction, and an adventure quest. The book is set in a fantasy industrial world where technology is fairly far advanced, but there is still a reliance on magic. Speaking of which, the magic of the book revolves around the consumption of the blood of dragons, of which there are four known types; green, blue, red, and black. By drinking the different blood types, rare individuals can gain incredible powers for a short period of time. The world of The Waking Fire is built on the industrialization of this blood, and the economies of nations ride on the ability to produce the product. The main plot of the book revolves around the hunt for a mythical fifth dragon type, the white, but there are also a number of subplots that run throughout the book that would take too long to list. The book has three major protagonists, one for each of the different categories listed above (spy, military, and adventure). The first is Lizanne, an industrial spy in the employ of a large trade conglomerate, who is tasked with gathering cover knowledge about the location of the white drake. The second is Hilemore, second mate on a ship in employ of the trade conglomerate and tasked with protecting the assets of the company. Finally there is Clay, a younger character from the ghettos who is roped into an adventure to search for the mythical white drake against his will. The book follows each of them separately as they set about their tasks and blends their narratives to tell the full story.
The strengths of The Waking Fire are numerous. The first is that it offers a refreshing and unique setting for a fantasy world with its industrial technology and intense focus on the economy. In addition, the book might be only part spy, part military, and part adventure but it feels like it is an all star novel in each of the genres. The spy craft is intriguing, the military exciting, and the adventure awe inducing. The Waking Fire outperforms books in all three genres, yet doesn’t feel like a mish mash of different books thrown together. Next, the characters are incredible, from protagonist to side characters. I particularly enjoyed the complex relationships that develop all across the book between family, friend, and love interests. The book is also a lot more mature in its philosophies, concepts, and execution than Ryan’s past work. This is a more subtle and clever work than The Raven’s Shadow and I cannot wait to see how it develops. Speaking of which, the plot is good, really good. I don’t really understand how he did it, but somehow Ryan managed to convince me I learned a million things about The Waking Fire as I read it, yet came out feeling like I knew nothing with 1000 questions. It is one of the few books I finished and immediately wanted to reread just to make sure I got everything.
While the positives of the book are numerous, I would be remiss if I did not also talk about the two negatives I encountered. The first is that The Waking Fire really could have benefited from a small synopsis of the different factions at the start of the book. This is a problem that has plagued Ryan in the past, and it took me some time to understand who was working for who and led to some initial confusion. It did not help that my ARC copy did not have this awesome map, but as it was an ARC I can’t dock it points for that.The second is that while the three protagonists stories are all fully realized and equally good, Hilemore’s chapters fall off the face of the Earth (or wherever The Waking Fire takes place) in the last part of the book and I would have liked a little more time with him than I got.
The Waking Fire is not like Blood Song or the rest of The Raven’s Shadow in the best way possible. Instead Ryan has created a second universe that I like even more than his first and cannot wait to pick up the next installment. With its genre boundary-breaking adventure, The Waking Fire easily will make my list of best books of 2016 and demonstrates that Ryan is more than a one trick pony. The Quill to Live recommends you pick up this fantastic story as soon as you can, and start your own quest for the white drake.
Rating: The Waking Fire – 9.5/10